He is possibly the only god in India who owns so much land —25,711 acres — but Lord Jagannath is struggling to get part of it back from encroachers.
Lord Jagannath, presiding deity of the 12th century temple in Puri, is listed as a landlord in the Orissa government’s revenue records. He reportedly owns 56,000 acres, of which at least 25,711 acres is registered against the name of “Sri Jagannath Mahaprabhu Bije, Puri” in the state’s land revenue records. The temple’s managing committee headed by the Puri king manages the land on behalf of the deity. The lands are spread over 23 of Orissa’s 30 districts as well as states such as Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
But the land mafia, allegedly helped by bureaucrats and corrupt politicians, is believed to have parcelled away at least 20 per cent of his recorded land in Orissa. Chief administrator of the temple Arvind Padhee, a senior IAS officer, decided to strike back early this week. The temple administration cleared 250 acres in Jatni area near Bhubaneswar and Delang area of Puri district. The land is worth an estimated Rs 500 crore.
“When I started clearing the area, there were goons all over the place. But we were determined to clear it,” said Padhee, who as revenue divisional commissioner, central division, has been trying to get the lord’s land records updated. Among the alleged encroachers was the son of a former Assam governor, whose stone crusher was obscuring the landscape. The anti-encroachment team’s bulldozers razed a rice processing mill, a housing society, a market complex and several dhabas that had mushroomed over the land. A head clerk working at the temple’s Jatni office, who was found guilty of conniving with the land mafia, was suspended.
Officials said the encroachers had sought to justify the land-grabbing, saying it had been authorised by the endowment commissioner under the Orissa Hindu Religious Endowments Act, 1951. But Padhee cited section 16(3) of the Shri Jagannath Temple Act, 1954, which says any transfer of immovable property recorded in the name of Lord Jagannath of Puri by any person including any institution would be null and void. As per section 2(1) of the temple Act, the provisions of the Hindu religious endowments Act are not applicable to the temple except with respect to actions taken, things done and contributions levied as such.
Padhee said the temple administration is now planning to evict encroachers from at least 1,000 acres in the next few weeks. After it is freed, the land would be sold to the general public through the Bhubaneswar Development Authority. The funds so generated would be deposited in the temple corpus fund.
Encouraged by the success of the drive, the temple administration is now in the process of identifying the remaining 30,000 acres for which there is no record of rights as yet. “Most of these lands are in districts of Puri, Khurda, Cuttack and Ganjam. If we get back the land, the lord’s would probably be the richest among all shrines in India,” Padhee said.